In the comfort of a Memoir class at New York University, I told my partial truth. We were tasked to write a short piece situated in a place. For me, that was New York. It was my home of a few weeks, and by the 29th, I had already felt abused by it. So I sat down, and I typed about the one thing that had me feeling utterly alone; the D-Day of my unsettled nature.
The man I love ended our last conversation by telling me he never wanted to hurt me. What he never understood was that saying a final goodbye to someone I had wanted to spend the rest of my life saying hello to was a pain that I could not numb as quickly as he had.
I moved to the city of opportunities for a new life in New York. He propelled me into the loneliness of heartbreak while I was alone, surrounded by strangers and thinking over what destruction was lying in the path of my future.
I was starved by the emptiness each evening. Those who supported me felt the timing of the break-up was perfect—the only baggage that I would have in NYC was the emptied suitcases stored on the top shelf of my closet, not a washed-up man living at home complaining about how his career hadn’t taken off. I struggled to see how lost love would illuminate a silver lining when he haunted my every thought, but I tried to listen.
I used to say my hardest goodbye was London; the city that propelled me into the best version of myself. Yet, when I found love that was reciprocated in a way a city could not, I realized some goodbyes would drop me to my knees. When I moved to New York, I wondered what I would find, and would I love the city just as I had love London? What was I to find in the streets of New York? Would they inspire me like London did while I was in limbo of finding myself again?
It was the first week here that I found my past intertwined with my future. A chalkboard that leaned against the window of a bar, just a block away from my apartment on 9th Street, caught my attention. It displayed happy hour prices that were grad student reasonable, but it was the bartender’s information sketched out that had my feet moving downstairs into the dimly lit dive bar.
His name was Alex; the same name as my older brother. He was born the same year as me, and only eleven days separated our births. We grew up in the same town in Southwest Florida, and somehow, our paths crossed in New York. The serendipitous meeting was my first shot at finding a community in a place that associated closely with my lonesomeness.
He introduced me to everyone he knew.
Soon the other bartenders knew my drink order and the regulars knew my name. The owner learned the story of how I came to be a regular and told it to everyone. Inside this nondescript dive bar in the East Village, New York shrank in size.
Several times a week, I went to the bar to connect with my newly acquainted friends. I took notice of the novelty decorations that seemed to have no reason to be there. The bar paid homage to Einstein, who overlooked the entrance and the knight amour who stood tall over the bar. Christmas lights colored the low ceiling, while small amber lights attempted to illuminate the faces who lined the mahogany bar. It was dark, damp, and musky in the basement bar. Television screens lit up with the nightly news, sports games, and fishing shows.
I’d press my fingertips to the cool copper countertop; lean in and greet my friend on the opposite side. Over their head was a wall of confiscated IDs, an underage drinker’s most wanted that filled the empty space above liquor bottles. They’d place a Guinness in front of me and smile. The froth with the first sip gave me a slight ‘stache, which made me smile broader in return. I thought I found some good company in New York.
Men who frequented the bar took me as a damsel in distress that needed saving because I was alone most evenings. They filled my time with small talk, which leads to questions of nightcaps, numbers, and future dates. I objected them all. Single seemed to objectify me slightly to the wrong men, and one man, in particular, became possessive. Andrew was a regular like myself; the first one I met through Alex, but he is the worst kind of man; insecure and fueled by anger.
I stood outside with two off the clock bartenders and Andrew. The three of them wavered as beer replaced the blood swimming through their veins. In his thick Irish accent, one bartender enclosed me with his love which turned confessional of how much he cared for me and how glad he was that I was apart of the bar. He flicked the butt of his cigarette to the ground and held me tightly in his arms before he faded back through the door. I needed that. I needed a man to show compassion for a single moment and not want anything in return.
Alex checked that I would be okay walking home as he inhaled his final drag. I nodded, and he hugged me goodbye before he slipped downstairs. Andrew then closed the door and turned to me. I uttered goodbye as I turned for home, but my sense of safety moved from underneath me.
I was face to face with a man who wanted to hurt me. Aggression filled the words he interchanged for goodbye.
“You are banned from this bar.”
His displeased attitude stemmed from me not falling into bed with him. I caught on to that when I asked him to repeat what he just said.
He had no jurisdiction over this bar but wanted power over me. I stood in shock, as he listed threats that came one after another. Confused by how this change of events happened, I sought clarity with the bartenders inside and attempted to open the door. Really I was looking for help.
If his words weren’t painful enough, his hand clutched around my arm, and he pulled me out of the entrance. He pushed me further outside and yelled at me to vacate the premises. I remember telling this part to my teacher, and he repeated back the words, “he assaulted you?” I was nervous. I felt like I was oversharing, but I couldn’t deny what had happened.
The men who loved my presences did not get up. I yelled for them down by the bar, while this man forcibly kept me outside. I watched them ignore the scene which unraveled with the fear I was sinking into. They heard the yelling but chose to stay downstairs. After just showing my compassion, they ignored the issue. I walked home, scared, and alone. The man threatened my safety, and I was frightened.
Had I found a community or had I found depths of another beast?
I spoke to them all about it during the days that followed. One begging me to come back to talk about the situation. They scoffed. Of course, I would never be banned.
“He’s just upset you wouldn’t sleep with him.”
One said as I felt slight justifications leave his mouth and my stomach lurched from the pure arrogance to the situation and the issue at hand.
“Don’t feel threatened by him.”
Another said as I filled with anxiety as he entered the bar and stared me down. How could I not be? A man who wants nothing but power over a woman is someone a woman is taught to fear.
Embedded in the pain was feeling alone in a bar that I once felt welcome in. All I could envision was how their eyes diverted from the conflict and could only stare down. I felt confused as to why they feared to lose me when I mentioned it wouldn’t be ideal for me to keep coming around. As if my final goodbye caused them some sort of discomfort, yet the pain in my voice as I yelled for help didn’t cause them any. Did they know they were wrong to leave me alone? Did they have any regrets?
I began to wonder if they just as lonely as I was? They weren’t struggling with a break-up, they had friends, family, and lovers in the city. They were connected with the locals and their coworkers. But they were lonely. And for once in New York, I wasn’t surrounded by strangers, but these people were anything but friends of mine.
For the remainder of my lease, whether I want to ever admit it or not, I looked over my shoulder in fear. I was anxious to bump into the man who assaulted me. I never wanted to come face to face with him again, even though many have told me that he was sorry.
I didn’t want that. I wanted a new beginning where I could be happier, and that meant leaving that life behind. It meant never replying back to text messages from those people and forging a new life I wanted to live. For a while, New York pained me, but as I let go of that pain, I felt better. Little by little I opened back up to the city I so quickly shut down, but it wasn’t until I let go of this week, this day, this month in 2017.
It’s these moments, the August 29th moments, that have me continuing this blog. So much has changed since that moment, but at the time, I was struggling to ever find a way out or a positive in the situation. It’s difficult to think back to the fear I had at one point and wonder why I would ever put myself in that situation, but I realize now there is always time for me to grow and move past the difficult time.